pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.


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Thank You God

Reading: Romans 13:11 – “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber because salvation is nearer than when we first believed”.

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Happy Thanksgiving!

God is the source of all that is good in the world – love, hope, peace, joy, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, grace, empathy. God blesses us with so much more – family, friends, food, shelter, work, skills, and talents. Today is truly a day to be thankful to the Lord our God.

In the verse for today, Paul adds one more to the list: salvation. He begins by asking us to wake up, to be fully engaged and present on our journey of faith. Salvation is the deliverance from the chains of sin and death. It removes all the punishment for our sin. In a world without Jesus we would still be trying to atone or pay for our sins. It would cost us something small for a white lie or unkind word to a spouse or child or friend. It would be a bit more costly as we crept into gossip and envy and moreso if we stole or worshipped and idol.

As Christians, we no longer are slaves to the old sacrificial system. We have no price to pay. We have no outstanding debt. On the cross Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world – all of them, even yours and mine. He bore them all and then gave his perfect life as the atoning sacrifice. Jesus did what no one else could have or would have. Salvation is simply a gift to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a gift that we do not deserve, but it is offered nonetheless. For this too we give our thanks today. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Loving and kind Father, I thank you deeply for your love and for all else that flows from your love. I remain amazed and humbled that you would love a sinner, a wretch like me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.


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That Big a Love

Reading: Luke 23: 32-43

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

In today’s passage we turn to Jesus on the cross. It is a place none of us would want to be. But it exactly where Jesus needed to be and wanted to be. Over the course of the last two days we have looked at how God’s plan unfolded in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and of how God calls us to repent of our sins so that he can guide our steps. Today those plans and steps meet at Golgatha, the Skull.

The cross was a necessary step for Jesus and for us. It was how he became the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. Jesus hung there between two others – criminals being justly executed for their crimes. These two represent us. None of us are without sin. All of us deserve punishment. Some of the time we are like the one who hurls insults at Jesus Christ. In pride we say we can do this on our own. In arrogance we say we are the one in control. If we remain this criminal, we receive the punishment due. We can also be the other criminal. We recognize that an innocent and blameless man took upon himself our sins and died for us. We realize our own guilt and we come and kneel at the cross, begging for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In love, Jesus offers all of these gifts to us.

The cross was once for all. Once because it was the final atonement for our sins. The price then and now and until he returns has been paid in full. For all because Jesus died for every one of us. I believe Jesus would have died for just one of us. That’s how great his love is for each of us. But Jesus did not just take upon himself the sins of one man or woman. On Jesus hung all the sins past, present, and future. His was a sacrificial love great enough to bear all of that. It is still that big a love.

Whether we are near or far, whether we have allowed sin to separate us for a long time or just a few minutes, all we need to do is confess and repent. In love our sins are no more. Made holy and right again, we live one more day closer to hearing, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace, today I think of what Jesus did for me, a sinner undeserving of grace. That I was undeserving did not matter to Jesus. Thank you for this love so great. Help me to cling to it again today. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.


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Faith Exercise

Reading: Luke 17: 5-6

Verse 5: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith'”!

Faith is an interesting animal. At places in our faith journey, it can be easy to have a solid faith. When life is going well and we have time to nurture our faith through worship, prayer, study, and meditation. At other stops along the road our faith can be really hard to find and stand upon. When life gets busy or when we have been in the valley for a while, faith can be elusive.

In Luke 17 Jesus has just finished talking about the consequences of sin. He encourages the disciples to “watch yourselves” yet also adds a reminder about being generous in offering forgiveness to others. The disciples live in the world so they know how hard the evil one can fight to lead us into sin. They are also of the flesh. They know how ego and hurt feelings and other emotions can make it difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you. Realizing all of this, they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”! The disciples are very aware of their need to receive holy power in the living out of their faith.

To me, faith is like a muscle. If we exercise it regularly and experience the benefits, then it becomes stronger. It can even grow to the point of being a reservoir for the days of trial. On the other hand, if we do not give regular attention to our faith, then it atrophies and becomes of less and less use in the trials and sufferings of life. Jesus reminds the apostles and us modern day disciples that faith – even a little – is very powerful. Jesus tells us that if we “have faith as small as a mustard seed” we can do amazing things. He tells us that a faith that small is powerful enough to “uproot and plant” a tree into the sea. Imagining what a faith like that could be like, we recommit today to the disciplines of the faith – worship, prayer, study, and meditation – and join the disciples in crying out, “Increase our faith”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, having a faith that is growing and active and alive requires commitment and diligence. Grant me the strength and love of you that leads me to nurture and mature my relationship with you. In your grace, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.


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Provider and Defender

Reading: Psalm 81: 15-16

Verse 16: “You would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock”.

Most of Psalm 81 laments Israel’s most recent choice to worship idols instead of the God who did so much for them. In today’s passage, the last two verses of the Psalm, we hear the “if only” of the writing. The enemies of Israel would cringe and receive punishment and the Israelites “would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock” if only the people would turn again to the Lord their God.

The Promised Land has always been that special place set aside for God’s people. Ever since Abraham received the promise, it has been seen as the “land flowing with milk and honey”. As the Israelites finally entered it at the end of the exodus, there was an abundance of crops and resources that simply became theirs to reap and harvest. The land could not have been any better for a people who had been roaming the desert for forty years.

The bounty of the land is just one symbolic way that shows God’s love for the Israelites. God’s offer to protect them from their enemies is one more example of God’s love and care. Many years later, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, these two ideas were included. Jesus taught to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. This reminds us that God is our provider. Later on in the prayer we pray, “and keep us from temptation”. Keep Satan, our biggest enemy, from us, O God. This reminds us that God is our defender.

We, like the Israelites, have our times when we wander off from God. Although it could be for forty years, let’s hope not. No matter how long it is or how quickly we seek to return to God, God is always there, always quick to grant mercy and to extend forgiveness. Some things never change – God still desires a personal relationship with each of us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for being my provider and my defender. In all that life and the evil one brings, you are my only hope. Thank you for walking every day with me. You’re an awesome God! Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.